By King Williams After weeks of rumors, Amazon, the second trillion dollar U.S. company, confirmed that it would be selecting not one but two U.S. cities for its North American second headquarters known colloquially ...
Authority Asks: Do You Want Your Bus to Go More Places or Arrive More Frequently? MARTA is seeking customer input on a possible redesign of its bus network. MARTA wants to know do you want the bus to come more frequently but go fewer places or go more places but arrive less frequently? Click here link to learn more about the two bus service options and then click here MARTA Bus Network Redesign Project Survey (surveymonkey.com) to tell us what you think. Participation in the survey will help MARTA create a more connected and efficient transit system that meets the needs of its customers. Once you take the survey, share it! MARTA wants to hear from as many riders and potential customers as possible. MARTA will take the feedback from the surveys and outline next steps in the process this spring. Questions and comments about MARTA’s Bus Network Redesign can be emailed to email@example.com. This is sponsored content.
State of Good Repair Work Will Impact Red and Gold Line Service Feb. 18-23 MARTA is preparing for the next phase of its Track Replacement Project, an approximate $225 million State of Good Repair project that will enhance the safety of the rail system, reduce train delays, and improve the customer experience. MARTA will replace heavy rail between Buckhead and Medical Center stations beginning Friday, Feb. 18 at 9 p.m. and concluding Thursday, Feb. 24 at 4 a.m. Red Line rail service south of Dunwoody station will be suspended during this time. MARTA is hosting two virtual meetings on Thursday, Jan. 27 and Saturday, Jan. 29 where customers and stakeholders can learn more about the project and service impact. WHAT: Track Replacement Project Virtual Public Meeting 1 WHEN: Thursday, Jan. 27, 6 p.m. WHERE: Click here to access the virtual meeting or Call 1-929-205-6099 and use access code: 240984 WHAT: Track Replacement Project Virtual Public Meeting 2 WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 29, 11 a.m. WHERE: Click here to access the virtual meeting or Call 1-301-715-8592 and use access code: 588725 The Track Replacement Project is a multi-year effort that involves replacing track and switches throughout the rail system. The work on the Red Line includes a rail crossover (Northland) that touches both main track lines and prevents normal single-tracking operations. To assist impacted customers, free bus shuttles will connect to Dunwoody, Medical Center, Buckhead, and Lenox stations and run continuously from 9 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 18, until the end of service on Wednesday, Feb. 23. Regular rail service will resume on Thursday, Feb. 24. MARTA station agents and transit ambassadors will be at the impacted rail stations to assist customers, and signs guiding customers between the bus shuttles and trains will be prominently displayed. Customers who normally drive and park at North Springs, Sandy Springs, and Dunwoody stations for southbound service should consider parking at Doraville or Lindbergh stations during the project. MARTA will also offer discounts for Uber and Lyft rides through its MARTAConnect program. Rail service north of Dunwoody and south of Lindbergh, and service on the Blue and Green Lines (east/west) will operate normally. To learn more about the track replacement work and service impact visit www.itsmarta.com/trackreplacement or MARTA – YouTube. This is sponsored content.
As we look back on the last two years, everyone has experienced challenges. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the negative mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue their impact through 2029. Families First knows the families we serve were already hurting, and their trauma has been made worse during the pandemic. “I’ve got a full team of people here working on my behalf. All I have to do is hold up my end of the bargain too.” Darrell B., Families First Client We are seeing exciting progress with our clients with our wrap-around services focused on building resilience and ensuring they feel safer, more stable, and have access to the social and community support needed to move from surviving to thriving. Our families now benefit from new behavioral health assessments and services that help them learn to build psychosocial resilience. We pair our clinical services with a Navigator – a family quarterback – who stays at our families’ sides. We are meeting our clients where they are and helping them navigate to stability during unimaginable hardships. From March 2021 to October 2021, the Families First Navigator Model has served more than 90 households and impacted the lives of 379 individuals. Most of the individuals impacted were children and youth under 18 years of age (61%), while 39% were adults 18 years of age or older. The program has served more female clients (66%) than male clients (34%) and has also predominately served communities of color (97%). Our team has helped families like Darrell’s build their resilience and create a support network. One of the first steps in our Navigator Model is the Families First Resiliency Needs Screener (FFRNS-14), a fourteen-item resilience screening tool that measures three main areas of psychosocial resilience including: Access to health and mental health services Connectedness – social health Future & goal orientation We understand firsthand the needs of clients today, but we want to be intentional in helping people combat the needs of ‘tomorrow.’ The learned skills of resiliency can be passed along for generations to come. Used as a first line of “Access” the Screener helps families and professional helpers understand their healthcare resources so that in time of need they can be connected and/or help others to access these essential resources. Access transcends socioeconomic status. Whether you have healthcare insurance or not, people usually do not dive deep into knowing all the services for which they are eligible. We tend to be reactive naturally because of shifting priorities in our day-to-today lives. Many become aware of some of these services once a crisis has occurred, but preventive care is nonexistent. Families First’s Navigators pair the “Access” score with a client’s assessment of the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) to customize a service plan that helps increase the scores in this area. “Connectedness” is a protective factor for stress related diseases. It is also a protective factor for suicidal ideation, and mood disorders. Connectedness, bonds, and alliance is one of the most (if not the most) fundamental survival mechanisms of humankind. Individuals who can master social growth are capable of significant achievements. Connection with others is the grounds for empathy and collaboration to achieve any goal. This concept is best known as social intelligence, which is the ability to connect with others, establish new relationships, and maintain them all in a healthy manner. It takes mental health support to increase scoring in this category. Between social coaching and psychotherapeutic services, the practitioner should see improvements in this category. This is where we have seen some of the most compelling increases with clients. We know this is a vital part of the social determinants of health and how our clients can build their resilience. When asked, “I know people who can connect me to the resources I need in the community, we saw the following increase in just four months: 11% to 54% agree that they now have these social and community connections 6% to 31% strongly agree that they now have social and community connections “Goal and Future Orientation” is a person’s ability to see their lives ahead. Ideally, future orientation is how a person views themselves in the future as achieving their aspirations or at least being on the right track to achieve their short and long-term goals. Next to connectedness, future orientation is a major motivator to making healthy changes in one’s life. A major barrier to psychosocial recovery is when the person has little to no vision or aspiration beyond what is currently happening in his/her life. The Practitioner can put together a customizable plan to foster the development of the client’s ability to establish goals and aspirations and prepare a plan towards the person’s goals and objectives. We are all ready for some normalcy. Emotional readiness however takes preparation and some planning. We have learned that events like natural disasters and health-related phenomena such as pandemics are factors that can reshape our lives. To help us prepare for what may come and cope better with changes you should consider checking your resiliency level and how you can increase your ability to handle tough challenges life brings. We work closely with community partners to achieve success within our Navigator Care Model. Community partners have access to our FFRNS to measure the resiliency of their clients and work with us to put together comprehensive care plans and community connections. One example of the importance of community collaborations is the ReCast Grant in Lawrenceville. Families First is part of a coalition of community partners including the City of Lawrenceville, Impact46 and Georgia Center for Opportunity. With the five-year, $5-million federal grant from the Resiliency in Communities After Stress and Trauma (ReCast) program administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), this group is working together to increase access to mental health services and reduce trauma among high-risk youth and their families; increase access to social services; strengthen community relations; and increase diverse voices in city government. […]
Last week, the Metro Atlanta Chamber (MAC) announced ATL Action for Racial Equity, a multi-year, multi-step action plan designed to help address the ongoing effects of systemic racism impacting the Black community. In just a few days since launch, 30 additional metro Atlanta-based companies ranging in size and industry joined the initiative – to-date totaling more than 180 participating organizations. These companies and leaders will leverage the size, scale and expertise of the region’s business community to advance racial equity. Invitations to the initiative remain open, and MAC is inviting all businesses across metro Atlanta to sign on. ATL Action for Racial Equity focuses on measurable actions across corporate policies, inclusive economic development, education and workforce development – critical areas in addressing the region’s immobility and inequity challenges. See quotes below from the region’s business leaders on why they chose to participate and why this initiative is important, now more than ever. Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more. Ed Bastian, CEO Delta Air Lines and 2021 Board Chair, Metro Atlanta Chamber: “In metro Atlanta, our differences are our strength. We work together to make our community and the world better. We are not perfect, but we are committed to preserving and holding up this region’s legacy, especially now. As we tackle economic recovery, public health and the disproportionate impacts on our Black community, our business community must do its part. This is a moral and economic imperative as we work to grow our region’s competitiveness today and into the future.” Jimmy Etheredge, CEO North America, Accenture: “Accenture is proud to collaborate with the Metro Atlanta Chamber and business leaders across Atlanta to take action on building a more equitable future for our community. Together, we are acting, we are leading, and we are driving change.” Steve Koonin, CEO, Atlanta Hawks and State Farm Arena: “We proudly support ATL Action for Racial Equity and promise that our franchise will continue taking the steps and supporting the causes that lead to equity for all in our city.” Rohit Malhotra, Founder and Executive Director, Center for Civic Innovation: “The Center for Civic Innovation mission and day to day operations are designed to fight for an equity-centered Atlanta. The business community in Atlanta has a long and complicated history with equity in our city— we’re glad to see the Metro Atlanta Chamber call on companies and institutions to take measurable actions that align with their publicly stated values and sentiments. It is in this city’s best interest for this effort to succeed.” Jenna Kelly, President, Truist Northern Georgia Region, Truist Bank: “At Truist, we firmly believe in building more just, inclusive, and equitable communities by standing for social justice, denouncing racism in all forms, and partnering with people and organizations who are as committed to equity we are. As we continue to have intentional dialogue around the role we can play in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, we’re excited to join the ATL Action for Racial Equity to do our part in making a positive difference throughout Atlanta.” Mary Schmidt Campbell, President, Spelman College: “If metro Atlanta is to close the region’s stark wealth gap, we all have to commit to bold innovative solutions. Spelman College, committed to the educational excellence of the 2000 Black women who attend the College, is also committed to the educational excellence of students in our neighborhood schools. For the past three years, our students have enjoyed major success in improving the reading scores of students in our neighborhood Washington Cluster Schools. We intend to launch a program that will accomplish improvements in math proficiency. This commitment to the improvement of K-12 education is aligned with the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce’s business and community imperative to advance racial inclusion. We are proud to partner with MAC in their strategic approach to advocating for equity.” Kyle Porter, CEO, SalesLoft: “The social justice and equity issues facing our companies, city, and nation are complex and intense. At SalesLoft we are committed to the necessary introspection, self-reflection, and action to be a more inclusive company because we believe it’s the right thing to do for our team, customers, and marketplace. SalesLoft is joining the ATL Action for Racial Equity because our internal efforts will be magnified and our progress accelerated through collaborative community work. Our community will become our ally and accountability partner providing the space to heed best practices, share wisdom, and generate ideas that will positively impact us all. Russ Torres, President, Kimberly-Clark Professional: “At Kimberly-Clark, we believe racial equity and justice are moral issues that must be addressed through comprehensive actions to enact meaningful and sustainable change. We are moving with urgency. Therefore, we are proud to partner with ATL Action for Racial Equity in this mission. Their disciplined, multi-year plan leverages the collective strength of metro Atlanta employers to support focused corporate policies that foster inclusive workforce and community development. With more than 1,500 Kimberly-Clark employees in the metro Atlanta area, this initiative is uniquely personal to us. We believe the success of our company depends on creating workplaces, communities, and experiences where inclusion and diversity are evident and thriving. Together with ATL Action for Racial Equity, we look forward to creating a vibrant and more inclusive region that offers opportunity, growth, and long-term value for all.” Elie Maalouf, CEO, Americas, InterContinental Hotel Group: “We applaud the Metro Atlanta Chamber on this initiative and stand with our peers in the Atlanta business community to advance diversity and inclusion. This commitment and collaboration reflect IHG’s values and inclusive culture, and builds on our own efforts to bring lasting, sustainable progress for the region and our colleagues.” Paul Bowers (Chairman and CEO) and Chris Womack (President), Georgia Power: “At Georgia Power, we deeply value the diversity of our team and the communities we serve. That’s why we are committed to creating an environment where employees and customers feel a sense of belonging and can be their true authentic selves. We’re proud to be a part of the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s ATL Action for Racial Equity efforts to do the same here in Atlanta. We believe businesses working together to ensure equality is how we can make a collective impact, and we’re …
By Jim Durrett, President of the Buckhead Coalition and Executive Director of the Buckhead CID Much has been written and said about Jeff Parker’s passing on January 14. Erin and the girls are left without a husband and father, and we grieve for them, especially. This is for those who lost a CEO. I rolled over to check the time on my phone. It was 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, January 15, and there was a text message glaring at me from a senior staff member at MARTA, which I have served as a board member for the past 12 years. “Need to speak with you urgently. Please call at any time.” I got out of bed and typed back to call me when able. Then I checked my email and my heart sank. Jeff Parker, General Manager and CEO of MARTA, had passed away Friday evening. There were no details about what had happened. A few hours later while speaking on the phone with MARTA’s Board Chairperson, Rita Scott, I found out that Jeff had died by suicide. The memories came rushing back. It was early in the morning of Friday, June 26, 1998, and I received a phone call from a staff member at the Georgia Conservancy. I was two years into my first job in the nonprofit community, serving the Georgia Conservancy as its COO. The voice on the other end of the line shared the terrible news that my boss and colleague, Carolyn Boyd Hatcher, CEO of the Georgia Conservancy, had died by suicide the night before. I quickly showered and dressed and drove to the office so that I would be there before any of the staff would arrive. I needed to be sure to meet every colleague to share the awful news before they heard it from another source. I also had to figure out how best to communicate something so devastating. I was all of 41 years old and was flying by the seat of my pants, pretending to be seasoned and wise. It was the worst day of my life and I hope I said and did the right things. What I vividly remember about the days following Carolyn’s death, is that over and over I asked myself what I might have said or done, or not said or done, to contribute to her decision to take her own life. Was there a warning sign that I had overlooked? Strong feelings of guilt clouded my mind, and I was in complete anguish for a time. My colleagues struggled with many of the same feelings. Thank goodness I found a nonprofit counseling organization that served survivors of suicide loss. The director of the organization spoke with us as a group to help us understand and come to terms with the feelings we all had. We learned about the difficulties of battling depression, and how well someone who suffers from depression can hide it from others. Most importantly, we learned that our colleague’s death was not our fault. Just as I was concerned 24 years ago about my fellow Conservancy employees, so am I about the good people with whom Jeff closely worked at MARTA. I wish for them grace and peace. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255. Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7 and confidential. This is sponsored content.
By Deron Davis, Executive Director, The Nature Conservancy in Georgia The last year challenged us all to reevaluate our priorities and find new ways of getting things done. That’s certainly true for The Nature Conservancy in Georgia, and I’m amazed at what our teams and partnerships accomplished. Through the creativity of our science-driven staff working in communities from north to south, the people and nature of Georgia are enjoying the benefits of our commitment to conservation. With permanent funding from the Army at Fort Benning, we enhanced the sustainability of our 35,000+ acre Chattahoochee Fall Line program near Columbus, a landscape of native wildlife and plant communities. We expanded the 18,000-acre Broxton Rocks Conservation Area in Coffee County with the purchase of 1,000+ acres that feature a high diversity of plants and provide habitat for a variety of animal species. One generous donor provided full project funding, including stewardship funds that will provide opportunities for fire crews, interns and others to train, work on, study and learn from this property. TNC has made it a goal to protect, manage and restore longleaf pine forests across the Southeast. In Georgia, we planted 683,860 longleaf pine trees, and because fire is a natural part of the longleaf landscape, we burned a record number of acres: 58,269. Thanks to our work co-managing the longleaf pine forests of the Moody Forest Nature Preserve in Appling County, this year our experts observed 17 fledgling endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers there. These are just a few examples of the impact we achieved in Georgia with the support of our community partners and generous donors. See our full IMPACT REPORT here. This is the decade to deliver. Actions like these will define our state’s path over the next century. The Nature Conservancy is taking on the dual threats of accelerated climate change and unprecedented biodiversity loss. By letting science guide our focus and equity guide our execution, we can shape a better future for people and our planet. I hope YOU will join us. This is sponsored content.
You’ll often hear me say that America is not just a place. Instead, she’s an idea. Although many people listen to me, not many really hear what I’m saying. America, as we know her, was founded with progress and achievement in mind. She’s a testament to the inherently resilient nature of humanity and our undying will to improve our condition and way of life — not for ourselves only, but also for each succeeding generation. With all of her flaws and dark histories, America is still the most incredible place on the planet to be born, live, and exercise the opportunity for growth and change. Dr. King understood this intimately. That’s why he gave his life in the pursuit of helping her realize her full potential. Being a prophetic visionary of epic proportions, Dr. King saw her beauty and wanted to preserve the powerful symbol of hope and uplift that America had come to symbolize to people around the world. He knew that America is the product of a dream in which ALL citizens should be welcome to participate. While the dream was in and of itself good, it was also fractured and fundamentally flawed. Capitalism had exploited those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. The rich were getting richer, while the poor were only becoming poorer. Our nation’s citizens were not allowed equal access to the American dream for reasons as shallow as skin color and ethnic origin. As this new idea of equality drew global prominence, Dr. King used his right as a human being as well as his privilege as an American citizen to call for the nation to wake up from its slumber, realize its shortcomings, and collectively begin to dream again, with the truth of love centered at its core. Then, and only then, could we all participate and make the dream a reality. As a dreamer who embodied the heart and soul of America, Dr. King offered an upgraded and improved version of the American dream, which called for equity, economic opportunity, financial literacy, and empowerment to be offered to all, without prejudice. He didn’t just talk about the dream; he lived it. Toward the end of Dr. King’s life he began to redirect his attention from civil rights to what I call “silver rights,” or economic freedom. His commitment to a vision of financial wellness and generational wealth for Black families is part of the impetus that led me to embark on two different, yet similar, journeys that have affected me greatly and are celebrating major milestones this year. First, Dr. King’s work is a major inspiration to me launching Operation HOPE nearly thirty years ago. Both then and now, we forged ahead with the mission of eradicating poverty through financial literacy. The second was my acquisition of The Promise Homes Company, which helps empower families to begin their generational wealth building journey with the most important purchase a person can make — real estate. Today, I am living out my purpose, actualizing the dreams of my forefathers, realizing the promise of America, and proving that her original ideas are not without merit. Because of Dr. King’s enduring legacy, I’m afforded the opportunity to actively participate in the economy, and my company, The Promise Homes Company, celebrates the historic close on a $200 million institutional debt facility from the global investment management firm Barings, making it one of the ten largest capital raises for a Black-owned company over the last decade. These types of investments and wealth creation opportunities allow me to pay it forward and positively affect the world around me in order to bend the universe’s moral arc towards justice. I am blessed and honored to follow in his footsteps, lead with moral integrity, and demonstrate that you can “Do well by doing good.” When we embrace and live out the dream, as Dr. King did– and apply his vision for moral leadership and equity to the American dream– we come closer to creating a better world, cultivating a more just society, and empowering lasting change in our communities. Dare to live the dream, and begin to live your own. Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and may we all continue to embrace and embody his spirit of radical change and generosity– one day at a time. John Hope Bryant, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Operation HOPE This is sponsored content.
With more than 3,000 homes in rural Alaska lacking piped water systems, sanitation remains a serious challenge in many remote communities. As COVID-19 reached Alaska, residents in these unserved communities became even more vulnerable to the spread of the virus. “Those communities that lack basic services have higher rates of skin infections, infectious diarrhea and acute respiratory infection among children and elders,” said Troy Ritter, water subject matter expert for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “There is a striking difference in health outcomes between served and unserved communities.” In coordination with CDC, the CDC Foundation approached the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) to see how they could help. As a nonprofit agency with deep ties to Alaska Native and American Indian communities across the state, ANTHC began exploring ways to address the critical sanitation needs. The answer was the Mini Portable Alternative Sanitation System (PASS). Comprised of a simple gravity fed 20-gallon handwashing station and ventilated toilet, the Mini PASS is an iteration of a larger PASS unit designed by ANTHC engineers and used in rural homes across the state. Smaller in size than the original PASS system, the Mini PASS was ideal for smaller homes and easier to transport to remote Alaskan communities. The newly designed unit also has a low-flow faucet that enables household members to use fresh water, rather than reusing water from a basin—a critical improvement in sanitation. Because it uses no seepage pit, which requires digging in summer months, the Mini PASS can also be installed at any time of year. “With these CDC Foundation funds, there was flexibility, so we could use the funding to provide systems that were a bit different than what had been used in the past,” Ritter said. “We had this unique infrastructure sitting on the shelf, and we knew it worked.” Working first with tribal regional health associations who chose the most vulnerable communities, ANTHC then coordinated with community elders to identify the residents most in need. Once the homes were identified, ANTHC staff visited the homes to make sure the units would fit, and to educate the homeowners on proper use of the system. “The project can only be successful if the homeowner embraces the technology,” said Jacqualine Schaeffer, community development manager for ANTHC, who conducted the home visits. “If it’s too difficult, chances are that system is going to fail because we didn’t use the correct communication method.” Though the initial target was to provide 100 Mini-PASS units in 10 selected communities, ANTHC staff looked carefully at the costs and logistics of the project and determined the target might be better lowered to 75 homes. Wanting to reach as many homes as possible with the funding available, they looked hard at solutions. “We went to the CDC Foundation with the issue, and they asked how much we would need to hit that 100 mark,” said Charissa Williar, sanitation facilities program manager for ANTHC. “They were able to come through with additional support, so at that point we were full steam ahead.” Through CDC Foundation funding and the generosity of a private CDC Foundation donor, ANTHC was able to install 100 Mini-PASS units within six months. The funding also provided for the hiring of a local champion in each of the 10 communities to support the unit recipients and troubleshoot any problems that arise. Another 32 units will be installed by late 2021 with additional funds from the CDC Foundation and a contribution by an Alaska-based nonprofit. While the Mini-PASS system is still an intermediate solution, because it doesn’t solve the bigger challenge of piped water and sewage, the unit does create a far healthier environment, a critical point in homes often crowded with extended family in unsanitary conditions, said Schaeffer. “Imagine 10 people living under one roof without running water or any sanitation,” Schaeffer said. “They use a 5-gallon bucket for human waste, so there is a risk factor there that communities live with every day. But this system helps alleviate that risk.” This project will serve as model for other hard-to-reach communities. “Our work with ANTHC and CDC highlights how innovation supports the needs of communities,” said Ramot Adeboyejo, MPH, emergency response officer for the CDC Foundation. “The Mini-PASS unit is an example of one mechanism that can be scaled to serve many other communities who face unique challenges similar to the recipient families in Alaska. It has truly been an honor to work with ANTHC and CDC on this project.” This is sponsored content.
By Ashley Bell Amid the widespread racial justice movement that emerged last year following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, many large corporations were lauded for their work combatting the racial inequities that have plagued our nation since its inception. While these companies have certainly helped advance the cause, their efforts have fallen short of truly addressing the deeply entrenched inequalities in Black communities across the country. To be truly effective in this effort, we need companies and organizations of all shapes and sizes to step up to address the pressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, and provide resources to accelerate this much needed change. While this can seem like a daunting task, there are fortunately many groups that are already engaged that can provide a roadmap for those looking to get involved. Arguably one of the most well-known organizations taking up the mantle is the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, which is refinancing the construction loan for the team’s Emory Sports Medicine Complex with a syndicate of Black-owned banks. The $35 million loan, which was facilitated with the support of the National Black Bank Foundation (NBBF), marked the first time that a professional sports franchise took out a significant loan that was underwritten exclusively by Black banks. To understand the significance of this loan, it is important to know the state of Black banks in the country today. Black banks are often the primary source for fair, non-predatory lending within the African American community, yet since 2001, their numbers have fallen by more than half. In 1976, there were 50 Black banks spread across the country, but according to the FDIC’s latest count, that number is now just 18. The loan taken out by the Hawks not only helps Black banks as it allows them to compete with the major commercial banks, but it is also a win for the Black community. The dearth of access to basic financial services in many Black neighborhoods has forced underserved populations to rely on predatory businesses like check-cashing and payday loans. But by supporting the health and growth of Black banks, the Hawks are not just helping these vital financial institutions but are ensuring equitable access to capital for underserved communities of color and helping close America’s racial wealth gap. It is not just professional sports teams and household names, however, that are working to upend racial inequities. There are many cases of less well-known organizations making a big impact in Black communities throughout the country. For example, there is the Atlanta-based real estate firm Ornstein-Schuler Investments (OSI), which has donated $25,000 to the NBBF to help modernize the Black banking sector. While OSI has contributed for the past two decades to improve the lives of the people in the communities they operate in, this particular donation could not come at a more opportune time. In 2019, 49 percent of Black households were underbanked or completely unbanked compared to just 15 percent of white households, according to the Federal Reserve. A large reason for this is the sad fact that the Black community has very few trustworthy banking options at its disposal. Investing in Black banks – whether it be by introducing new digital tools or expanding the number physical branch locations in minority neighborhoods – means also making an investment in Black-owned businesses and Black neighborhoods. That is why the Hawks’ and OSI’s contributions to the NBBF are so important to help modernize the black banking sector and ensure Black-owned businesses not only survive but thrive. The Atlanta Hawks and Ornstein-Schuler Investments are two great examples of organizations of different sizes doing their part to combat structural racism and inequities in Atlanta and beyond. But they can’t be the only ones. To make a real and lasting change, businesses and organizations large and small need to step up, speak out and make a difference through their voices and their donations. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once famously said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” so do not be silent. Ashley Bell is a partner at the global law firm Dentons and co-founded the National Black Bank Foundation, which facilitated a first-in-professional sports deal between the Atlanta Hawks and 11 Black-owned banks. This is sponsored content.
Westside Future Fund (WFF) is excited to be supporting thought leadership in the SaportaReport on Atlanta’s Historic Westside. At the October 15 Transform Westside Summit we announced the Westside Future Fund (WFF) PRI Program! A program-related investment (PRI) is low-cost capital that not-for-profit organizations can use to spur community development. Thanks to charitable support from Truist and PNC banks, WFF will provide low-cost loans to small, minority-owned businesses based in or serving the Historic Westside. This program builds on a pilot initially funded by AT&T and the Beloved Benefit. Our goal is to mobilize people with current, historical, or aspirational ties to the community to organically support the Westside’s economic development. The October 15 Transform Westside Summit highlighted the importance of economic empowerment of African American entrepreneurs with three special guest panelists – Courtney Smith from PNC Bank, Paul Wilson, Jr. from the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs (RICE), and Keitra Bates of Marddy’s Shared Kitchen and Marketplace. A common theme from the panelists was the need for equity in access to capital for Black business owners. Keitra Bates noted that white startups have access to $100,000 from family, on average, while for black startups, it’s only $11,000. In June 2020, PNC Bank announced its bold $1 billion commitment to playing a role in combatting racism and discrimination. During the Summit, Courtney elaborated on PNC’s commitment to the Westside by helping end systemic racism by donating to WFF for program-related investments. Keitra Bates is a recipient of a WFF PRI that she used to renovate and expand her shared kitchen. Marddy’s focus is on economic inclusion, business development, and growth opportunities for local food entrepreneurs with their primary service groups of people of color, women, and other marginalized populations. With the help of RICE, the PRI recipients will have access to resources to innovate, grow, create jobs, and build wealth. Part business generator, innovation lab, and museum, RICE invests in African American entrepreneurs, strengthens businesses, and creates community. We have many miles to eliminate the wealth gap between white and black startups. Thanks to our panelists and the organization they represent, we are making progress and hopefully serving as models for others! Check out our newsletter to learn more about the October 15 Summit. This is sponsored content.
By Alyssa Cobbs, program officer, Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta I’ve called Atlanta home for most of my life. As I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, my mother, brother and I moved from apartment to apartment for a number of years. With each move, my mom always focused on making sure we stayed in the same school district. Thirty years ago, that meant we could afford to live in zip code 30306 and attend Morningside Elementary School. I just did a search and the least expensive apartment I found in 30306 was a studio for $1,200. Today, we would not be able to live in a neighborhood to attend this school, even if we moved often. Average rental prices in Atlanta were 17% higher in August 2021 than they were in August 2020 – twice the national average increase. This is one part of my story and how affordable housing, or a lack of it, had an impact on my family – and we never experienced an eviction like the one-fifth of 800,000 renters potentially at-risk of eviction in light of COVID-19 and its multitude of impacts in our region. In a September 16 blog post, we shared some statistics about households at risk for eviction and the long-lasting impacts of evictions, including children having to change schools, barriers to future housing, and increases in stress and depression. Since September 2021, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta has joined with the Cobb Community Foundation, the Community Foundation for Northeast Georgia, a coalition of six family foundations (Betty and Davis Fitzgerald Foundation; Cousins Family Foundation; The Imlay Foundation; Sartain Lanier Family Foundation; The Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation; Tull Charitable Foundation), nonprofit partners and county leadership to respond to this issue. Together, we are identifying ways to support organizations working with families across the region to prevent evictions; advocating for improved processes to distribute federal emergency rental assistance funding to tenants and landlords to keep people in their homes; and sharing learnings and increasing partnerships all with a goal of addressing housing stability in the region. This work has been critical as our state and local governments have varied in their success in administering the first wave of Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) funding under the American Rescue Plan Act. The state program has provided just 10% of its available funding to families while some local offices have utilized 100% of their funds. In the most recent update from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), the agency did not meet the goal set by the U.S. Treasury to expend 30% of federal ERA funding by November 2021. To address this, DCA submitted a Program Improvement Plan and voluntarily proposed reallocating $74M of their unspent funds to local counties with more success disbursing funds to families ($25M to Fulton, $25M to DeKalb, $15M to Henry and $9M to Clayton) – this proposal was approved by the U.S. Department of Treasury on January 7. Meanwhile, evictions are rising in the region and the potential of this situation continuing to worsen – at a meeting of HouseATL’s policy committee it was shared that while 37,696 households had received ERA funding by the end of October 2021, more than twice that number of evictions had been filed in the five core metro Atlanta counties in 2021 (76,544 as of Nov 24, 2021). Two recent articles highlight the increase in eviction filings and an effort by the City of Atlanta to protect renters. Success at the local level has occurred both with counties that administer their own programs, and those who partner with nonprofits to distribute rental assistance. Nonprofit partners have identified that the administrative costs to administer Emergency Rental Assistance are often greater than what is available. In the last three months, through these collective efforts, over $1.5M in philanthropic funding has been committed to nonprofits working to: Ensure public Emergency Rental Assistance funds are available and accessible by supporting the capacity of nonprofit partners: For example, Africa’s Children’s Fund in Clayton County is working with the Chief Magistrate Court to identify and serve tenants with pending evictions and the Martin Luther King Sr Community Resources Collaborative is partnering with United Way of Greater Atlanta in Fulton County and the City of Atlanta to ensure families receive financial support 10-15 days from the initial application. Both of these organizations have put systems in place to ensure families in the region are able to access this government funding and are administering rent assistance amounts five times their prior annual budgets, increasing the need for staff, technology and other operation costs Provide rental assistance for those that do not qualify for government funding The Latin American Association, Latino Community Fund and Ser Familia are partnering to ensure families of immigrants have access to resources and are not excluded from programs they are eligible for Mercy Housing Southeast is supporting families facing financial hardship whether due to COVID-19 or not (the current influx of ERA funding requires that family financial hardship be related to COVID) Advocate to increase access to available government funding and keep families housed Enterprise Community Partners is advocating at the local, regional and state level to improve processes and access for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program Housing Justice League offers an eviction defense program for tenants facing eviction These examples are just six of the 26 organizations supported by community foundations and family foundation partners in the region. While there are government funds available for eviction prevention, there is still opportunity to support the capacity of organizations partnering to administer these funds, organizations providing direct rental assistance for families not eligible for government funding and organizations advocating for affordable housing. Our work and grant support has been done while working with local jurisdictions to ensure that we are responsive to how our dollars complement, not supplant, public dollars and how they are helping to unlock the full value of public dollars by increasing capacity and flexibility at nonprofits to best respond to people as they seek support to say housed. You may now be wondering why this post about evictions started with a …
A team of six Emory computer science students are helping to usher in a new era in artificial intelligence. They’ve developed a chatbot capable of making logical inferences that aims to hold deeper, more nuanced conversations with humans than have previously been possible. They’ve christened their chatbot “Emora,” because it sounds like a feminine version of “Emory” and is similar to a Hebrew word for an eloquent sage. The team is now refining their new approach to conversational AI — a logic-based framework for dialogue management that can be scaled to conduct real-life conversations. Their longer-term goal is to use Emora to assist first-year college students, helping them to navigate a new way of life, deal with day-to-day issues and guide them to proper human contacts and other resources when needed. Eventually, they hope to further refine their chatbot — developed during the era of COVID-19 with the philosophy “Emora cares for you” — to assist people dealing with social isolation and other issues, including anxiety and depression. The Emory team is headed by graduate students Sarah Finch and James Finch, along with faculty advisor Jinho Choi, associate professor in the Department of Computer Sciences. The team also includes graduate student Han He and undergraduates Sophy Huang, Daniil Huryn and Mack Hutsell. All the students are members of Choi’s Natural Language Processing Research Laboratory. “We’re taking advantage of established technology while introducing a new approach in how we combine and execute dialogue management so a computer can make logical inferences while conversing with a human,” Sarah Finch says. “We believe that Emora represents a groundbreaking moment for conversational artificial intelligence,” Choi adds. “The experience that users have with our chatbot will be largely different than chatbots based on traditional, state-machine approaches to AI.” Last year, Choi and Sarah and James Finch headed a team of 14 Emory students that took first place in Amazon’s Alexa Prize Socialbot Grand Challenge, winning $500,000 for their Emora chatbot. The annual Alexa Prize challenges university students to make breakthroughs in the design of chatbots, also known as socialbots — software apps that simplify interactions between humans and computers by allowing them to talk with one another. This year, they developed a completely new version of Emora with the new team of six students. They made the bold decision to start from scratch, instead of building on the state-machine platform they developed in 2020 for Emora. “We realized there was an upper limit to how far we could push the quality of the system we developed last year,” Sarah Finch says. “We wanted to do something much more advanced, with the potential to transform the field of artificial intelligence.” They based the current Emora on three types of frameworks to advance core natural language processing technology, computational symbolic structures and probabilistic reasoning for dialogue management. They worked around the clock, making it into the Alexa Prize finals in June. They did not complete most of the new system, however, until just a few days before they had to submit Emora to the judges for the final round of the competition. That gave the team no time to make finishing touches to the new system, work out the bugs, and flesh out the range of topics that it could deeply engage in with a human. While they did not win this year’s Alexa Prize, the strategy led them to develop a system that holds more potential to open new doors of possibilities for AI. In the run-up to the finals, users of Amazon’s virtual assistant, known as Alexa, volunteered to test out the competing chatbots, which were not identified by their names or universities. A chatbot’s success was gauged by user ratings. “The competition is extremely valuable because it gave us access to a high volume of people talking to our bot from all over the world,” James Finch says. “When we wanted to try something new, we didn’t have to wait long to see whether it worked. We immediately got this deluge of feedback so that we could make any needed adjustments. One of the biggest things we learned is that what people really want to talk about is their personal experiences. ” Sarah and James Finch, who married in 2019, are the ultimate computer power couple. They met at age 13 in a math class in their hometown of Grand Blanc, Michigan. They were dating by high school, bonding over a shared love of computer programming. As undergraduates at Michigan State University, they worked together on a joint passion for programming computers to speak more naturally with humans. “If we can create more flexible and robust dialogue capability in machines,” Sarah Finch explains, “a more natural, conversational interface could replace pointing, clicking and hours of learning a new software interface. Everyone would be on a more equal footing because using technology would become easier.” She hopes to pursue a career in enhancing computer dialogue capabilities with private industry after receiving her PhD. James Finch is most passionate about the intellectual aspects of solving problems and is leaning towards a career in academia after receiving his PhD. The Alexa Prize deadlines required the couple to work many 60-hour-plus weeks on developing Emora’s framework, but they didn’t consider it a grind. “I’ve enjoyed every day,” James Finch says. “Doing this kind of dialogue research is our dream and we’re living it. We are making something new that will hopefully be useful to the world.” They chose to come to Emory for graduate school because of Choi, an expert in natural language processing, and Eugene Agichtein, professor in the Department of Computer Science and an expert in information retrieval. Emora was designed not just to answer questions, but as a “social companion.” A caring chatbot was an essential requirement for Choi. At the end of every team meeting, he asks one member to say something about how the others have inspired them. “When someone sees a bright side in us, and shares it with others, everyone sees that …
By Rebecca Parshall As we conclude yet another semester of school amidst this pandemic, Learn4Life reflected on this year’s bright spots and challenges across metro Atlanta through our annual State of Education report and event. While we believe these resources are helpful in summarizing our region’s educational data and charting a path forward, some of our most insightful lessons this year came from listening to students. L4L partnered with VOX ATL, a platform for authentic and diverse teen expression and journalism, to ask students what issues are most pressing for them. Students revealed many of their concerns and posed these questions directly to our region’s school district superintendents. The themes we heard all focused on building a more supportive, equitable world. Four main ideas emerged: Students want equity in their school systems “I would like to see more social equity within schools. Acts of homophobia, racism, and anti-semitism are still being tolerated and they need to start having consequences.” – Alexis, age 15 “Why would people at a school, in the same county as another school, not get the same privileges as people at the other school?” – Lenore, age 9 Mental health matters and needs more attention “As a current senior, I’ve been dealing with the stress that comes with college applications, scholarships, and planning for my future. This stress can aggravate existing mental health disorders, and even lead to the development of new mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression… How will [districts] commit to providing additional and adequate mental health resources to your schools that you aren’t doing already?” – Zariah, age 17 Students need support navigating postsecondary options “My peers have little to no support at home when it comes to graduating and pursuing postsecondary options. We need some type of accessible, widespread curriculum that provides students with proper enlightenment and guidance… What are the school systems’ plans for expanding career pathway classes and certification accessibility?” – Rachel, age 17 Students want opportunities for civic engagement “I would love to see more civic participation and teaching students more about democracy and civic engagement. How do you plan to incorporate civic engagement and education into school curriculum?” – Sanjna, age 16 Our region’s students are leading with a commitment to advocate for their own needs and for the needs of their traditionally underserved peers. At L4L, we take this guidance as a call to action to co-build a more equitable Atlanta, and we are eager to continue partnering with educators and parents, as well as our business, nonprofit, and philanthropic partners. We believe our region’s educational disparities are best solved through collective action. Here are a few ways to join us on this journey: Read and listen to more incredible student voices at VOX ATL Check out L4L’s full State of Education report and event Join an L4L Change Action Network. All are welcome: Early Literacy, 8th Grade Math, Postsecondary Success This is sponsored content.